Sermon – The Body Of Christ                                                 Sunday, January 31, 2016

One of the marvelous gifts I have been given is the capacity to tell at a glance what somebody is like. I have no trouble seeing a person for the first time and identifying all his or her faults. What is more, in a split second I can tell you what she or he ought to be doing. Like one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s characters – who said: Of everybody’s weaknesses I know a thing or two, I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute; and I do!

 

The story goes that two businessmen were traveling by train  to an important business meeting. In the seat opposite them was an elderly man with a shaggy beard, dressed in a tattered sweater and jeans. Throughout the ride the two told each other crude jokes about bums and tramps, with particular reference to the chap in the next seat. When they arrived at the meeting they discovered  that this “tramp” was a world class scholar and the meeting’s keynote speaker. Realizing he had heard everything they said on route, they apologized. His response – “It is not my forgiveness you need, but the forgiveness of all the common people you hold in such disdain.”

 

“Judge not that you be not judged,” said Jesus.

 

Now, it is human nature to size up each other. and no amount of holiness is going to keep us from doing it. You will inevitably come to a conclusion about those with whom  you work, or those you  share a pew or a neighborhood. We are probably best advised to wait a long time, however,          before we jump to a conclusion about what anyone is like.

They may be far better than we had first assumed  or far worse. Chances are they will be far different.

 

One hears much these days about who Jesus is. In popular religion, Jesus – turns out to be  warm, fuzzy, friendly kind of guy, who has come to earth  to help us feel better about ourselves. His mission is to make us happy. He loves those who look and sound like us.

He has little use for those not middle-class Canadians. His aim is to make a world where we are even more blessed, even more safe and even more rich. the end product of his gospel is that we be happy, think positively and go safely to heaven. Spend a day listening to “Christian” radio or television my friend, and that is the Jesus you will encounter.

 

Those who first knew about him -those whom we read about this morning may have held similar opinions. Today’s gospel story takes place at the beginning of his public ministry.

He is still seeking to discover what God would  have him do and be. Yet – everyone else

seems to know what he should be “The news about him spread throughout all that territory” says the text. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion.

 

One day he appears at his home synagogue. Here was a local boy who was going to make a mark  and the people think that – Whatever else, – they knew  he going was going to do something for them. No doubt he would put those despicable Samaritans in their place. He would affirm the party line and  champion the best causes. His friends would be the right people. Their enemies would be his enemies, and they knew that their values were his values.

He shows up at the synagogue, and because he is a rabbi is asked to read scripture. By way of context you should know that the synagogue service had three readings. There was a psalm and a selection from one of the books of Moses. Both of these texts were assigned for the day so that in a three-year cycle the law and the psalms would be read through – similar to our lectionary system. But the text from the prophet was the choice of the reader. Jesus asked for the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolls it to the 61st chapter. When he finds the text, he reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has chosen me

to bring good news to the poor,

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set free the oppressed, and announce

that the time has come when the Lord

will  save his people

He returns the scroll to the attendant and sits down.

 

More context  Don’t assume he simply returned to where he had been sitting. In the synagogue everybody stood   except the preacher when he was preaching. There was only one chair. Jesus was about to deliver his first sermon to his hometown congregation.

The text reports that everybody commented on how well he read. It says they were all well impressed with him and  marvelled at the eloquent words that he spoke.

Can’t you just hear them “My he has a nice voice.” or “What a pleasant young man.”

 

The problem came when he began to comment on the text.  He said

“Today this passage of scripture has come true as you heard it being read,”

 

He went on to describe – by using their own history – with Elijah and Elisha as the models how God had sent him to minister to the very people he was talking to that day despised. I have discovered in my career as a preacher that people don’t get offended at Bible readings The trouble comes when you begin to spell out what the text means.

 

By the end of Jesus’ sermon that day  they were ready to lynch him. They ran him out of town, took him to a nearby cliff and would have thrown him headlong to his death had he not escaped.

 

Why the anger? Well – as I said – They had already defined Jesus. as their fair-haired boy.

They expected that – he was going to            – be one of them, take care of their needs,  protect them, and  put down all those who were not like them.  – his mission was to the right kind of people – them.  Well – just like our train travellers they had judged too quickly.

 

He defined his mission in terms that were not only different than they had assumed, but downright scandalous! They heard him say that he had come

to spend his life with the poor who would be the recipients of the good news.

He had come to serve the prisoners the scum who were getting what they

deserved in the slave pits.

His mission was to the sick, the blind, the afflicted.

He was to be a liberationist, who would set free the oppressed.

 

His ministry was not to be directed to the proper, the well, the pious, but to the improper, the sick, the pariahs. Two weeks ago at the Monday evening meeting of the Sermons and Spirituality group. The discussion turned to how hard it is was for us (in our affluenr society)to realize that in reality  we are all poor, we are all captive and we are all sick in some way and we are all in need of the proclamation of God’s favor.

 

Friends – here’s the thing The good news is that we (you and I) are amongst the sinners, the sick, the outcasts  that Jesus came to serve.

 

Jesus’  proclamation was good news to them  but they heard a challenge they weren’t expecting and which really angered them The shock to us comes when we realize

that his mission then is our mission now.

 

How do we define the essential work of the church What is our relationship to this young man, who was tossed out of his home synagogue because the people assumed he was to have one sort of ministry when in reality his        life and work were to be of another sort,

in fact, with people they despised? What is our relationship to that young man – Jesus of Nazareth”

 

Well- You are the body of Christ,” says Paul in today’s epistle.

Did you hear it? or did it go sort of over your head. We, the church, are the body of Christ! That means his ministry then is our ministry now. In defining who he was and what he was about            Jesus has defined who we are and what we are called to be about. And that’s where it gets tough.

 

Friends, here’s the thing To be the body of Christ means we may be much different than

– the world would like us to be,  even what we — who are infected by the world – see ourselves to be.

 

How does the world perceive us? Perhaps as a nice, friendly, harmless, middle-class, patriotic, conservative, proper group of people. We maintain the status-quo. In many ways, we are an awful lot like most fraternal or civic organizations.

Certainly – The world would never dream of applying the word “radical” to us. Would it?

 

And I believe we are guilty to some extent of thinking of this room (our sanctuary) as a comfortable place for the right kind of folks. And thinking that the purpose of the church is to make us warm and happy and content?

 

Well – friends let’s use our imagination for a moment

 

Put your imagination caps on Here comes Jesus. and one Sunday morning we let him read a text of his own choosing and preach. He reads from Isaiah the text that says God’s servant comes to spend his life with the poor, at the jail, among the untreated ill, and with the left out.

And that is obviously not us – by and large – at least we think so. But it doesn’t get really bad until he begins to talk about that mission in specific terms. He is going to serve those we would rather not even have around and he asks – nay demands that we do the same

 

That’s enough imagination – back to the real world

 

What of this Jesus today? Where can he be found? Is he a memorable character from an old book? Or are we today truly, “the body of Christ, or are we truly” Christ alive in today’s world? You know perhaps we are all of Christ the world around us will ever see.

 

Reverend Sabrina gave us a quote 2 or 3 weeks ago that I don’t remember the source of that read “there are 5 gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian – and most people only read the 5th one

 

As sinful and imperfect as we are, we are his voice, his hands and feet.

 

Here’s a series of questions for you

– What are we to be about?

– Do we exist for the care and feeding of ourselves only?

– Is this body in the world to make the comfortable even more comfortable?

– When you think of the church and your part in it,   what images come to mind?

– Do you see Christ’s body as existing for your amusement?

– Or do you see us existing to fulfill the His mission

that Christ defined as his own?

 

Friends – here’s the thing

 

There is really only the two choices. The church that chooses the former path may be popular, crowded and well thought of. But the church which assumes Christ’s own mission may not be popular — just as he was not popular.

 

The world needs to see Christ clearly. That means the world needs to see the church clearly. Why – because we may be the only Christ it will ever see. For as the spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, so it is upon us to

…”preach good news to the poor

… release to the captives

… sight to the blind

… and liberty to the oppressed.”        Amen